November 20, 2003

Bush's Lucy Strategy: George Soros Plays Charlie Brown

George Soros' article in the December issue of The Atlantic is a classic case of a potential ally being suckered in with Bush's enemies into making a fundamental mistake regarding George Bush's intentions.

If there is one thing crystal clear about the strategic situation of Al Queda and the US, it is that US is working to serialize the conflict while Al Queda is seeking to parallelize it.

The US wants to avoid making a major wartime shift in its economy and pushing defense spending from the 3%-4% it is currently at to quickly jump to the 6%-7% range. Such wartime spending is sustainable for a time but it would do a great deal of harm to the worldwide economy as money was sucked into the US war machine. Thus you see a desire to immediately take problems on only if they cannot be delayed without unacceptable cost to US interests. This perfectly explains why the larger threat of North Korea's nuclear program is being handled with comparative kid gloves to our treatment of Saddam.

The Iraqi sanctions regime was under tremendous pressure by Iraq's French, German, and Russian commercial partners and patrons. It is a truth that few want to admit today. Without the invasion, Saddam had a good shot at being sanctions free in 2004. Soon after, we would likely have found out just how good Saddam was at reconstituting his weapons programs with the huge revenue stream of unfettered oil sales at his disposal. It would likely have been an unpleasant lesson and one that would have cost a great deal of blood and treasure to correct.

North Korea, by comparison, is an easy solution. A six month sealed northern border and there won't be enough resources left to maintain the army. The removal of the regime with one less bent on proliferation would occur relatively quickly.

The PRC doesn't mind tweaking Uncle Sam's nose (in fact, they delight in it) but Pyongyang's nuclear armament will have Beijing in range long before it will have Washington. Would Kim Jong Il and company blackmail its major patron to get better aid terms? It would happen in a heartbeat. For that reason and others Beijing and Washington agree that the Korean Peninsula must remain nuke free.

Compared to the awesome scope of the task of the War on Terror, the US military is woefully undersized to take the problem on all at once, thus the need for serialization. Flat out announcing such a strategy of serialization to compensate for the US' military weakness would be profoundly counterproductive. So we get hints and the wink and nod treatment. Striking "at a time and place of our choosing" is a classic formulation to convey the tactical constraint without explicitly admitting to it.

But what is the plan? It appears to be two pronged and audacious in its scope. Simultaneously eliminate the dysfunctional governing arrangements that create and harbor terrorist movements while attacking the underlying legitimacy of our immediate foe Al Queda by creating a sense in the majority of muslims that Al Queda is apostate.

The strategy for pursuing the WoT is hidden out in plain sight because of two defects. The first is a constitutional one in that any strategy of dealing with the root causes of Al Queda's theology has a profound 1st amendment problem in interfering with the free exercise of religion. You can sense the difficulty of the problem by playing out the theoretical problem, if the US of today were in charge of colonial India, could it legally eliminate thuggee?

The second problem is parallelization in spades. Every two bit dictator and thug ruling a corner of the world is a target and if they knew it, and knew that the US was coming soon, they could coordinate, plan trouble, and launch it simultaneously. The whole world would be in flames and not enough firefighters would be available.

This inability to directly and officially acknowledge the animating strategy behind US administration actions has led George Soros desperately far astray. The New Rule Sets (NRS) that the administration are pursuing are fully compatible with Soros' long standing commitment to the model of the Open Society. In fact, the sketchiness of some of the civil affairs work implied by NRS is likely due to the ready availability of Open Society work that Soros has lavishly financed over the past decade plus in the old Soviet bloc. Why reinvent the wheel when Soros has already done a great deal of the groundwork. Unfortunately, Soros is quite fond of the Democrats and has long funded many leftist pet causes so it is unlikely that there is enough trust between the Bush administration and him to let him in on the plan and thus he is taken in by the deception and comes to fanciful conclusions.

Even so, September 11 could not have changed the course of history to the extent that it has if President Bush had not responded to it the way he did. He declared war on terrorism, and under that guise implemented a radical foreign-policy agenda whose underlying principles predated the tragedy. Those principles can be summed up as follows: International relations are relations of power, not law; power prevails and law legitimizes what prevails. The United States is unquestionably the dominant power in the post-Cold War world; it is therefore in a position to impose its views, interests, and values. The world would benefit from adopting those values, because the American model has demonstrated its superiority. The Clinton and first Bush Administrations failed to use the full potential of American power. This must be corrected; the United States must find a way to assert its supremacy in the world.

The error of this construction is, once again, illustrated by North Korea. A regime adhering to these power principles has no interest in a multilateral solution to the problem of a nuclear North Korea. So why is the US so doggedly supporting the multilateral model? Soros' guess at US principles fails to fit known evidence. Charlie Brown is once again on his back and Lucy didn't even have to pull the football away.

Another sign of divergence from reality is Soros' observation that neoconservatives "publicly called for the invasion of Iraq as early as 1998". The date is significant because that is when the official position of the US government was first aligned with regime change in Iraq (the text of the relevant law is here). The Congress authorized arming and supporting military resistance to Saddam Hussein. If advocating regime change in Iraq in 1998 is neoconservative ideology, Bill Clinton is functionally a moderate neoconservative, but that's absurd as Soros' article early on establishes a bright line "discontinuity" between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush's respective foreign policies.

Much is made of George Bush's West Point speech with regard to preemption but reading the speech you have to discard an awful lot of it to just pick out the points friendly to Soros' thesis.

Sure, there's "And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives". But that comes after

This war will take many turns we cannot predict. Yet I am certain of this: Wherever we carry it, the American flag will stand not only for our power, but for freedom. (Applause.) Our nation's cause has always been larger than our nation's defense. We fight, as we always fight, for a just peace -- a peace that favors human liberty. We will defend the peace against threats from terrorists and tyrants. We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers. And we will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent.

There's much more to chew over in the speech. It's worth rereading the whole thing to see how disingenuous it is to declare that Bush is against open societies.

Soros is on more solid grounds when he describes the genesis and effect of bubbles but his entire point rests on his having a more accurate understanding of the true world picture than the Bush administration. For an outsider, that's normally a tall order but Soros has made billions on having superior insight. And if his explanations would fit all the public facts of Bush administration foreign policy, his long track record would weigh heavily on attempts to debunk him. Many people have gone broke trying to prove George Soros wrong.

Unfortunately for his theory this time, it doesn't adequately explain why Bush chose Iraq for military intervention and not North Korea. Why is preemptive unilateralism in play in one and not the other. A theory that doesn't explain all the facts will always fail to a theory that does (or at least explains more of them). The argument for Korea first is pretty compelling. It solves a half century of conflict. It dismantles a much more advanced nuclear threat. It would instantly dispel the enemy's line about this being a war on Islam. Korea has a lot going for it so why the softer multilateral approach?

The answer is simple, the Bush strategy is not what Soros thinks it is. The finance maestro has been suckered by an MBA who is probably the world's most famous "imperfect graduate".

Posted by TMLutas at November 20, 2003 02:48 PM